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A different perspective

From: Mohan Sagar (
Date: Thu Dec 06 2001 - 07:06:43 PST

Respected bhAgavathas,

Somewhere among the plethora of argumentative e-mails that are related to
this topic, there is one by Sri Mani calling for a more objective and less
hagiology-based discusion on the subject of Manvalamamuni and Vedanta
Desika.  I would concur with Mani, with the exception that to do so in its
purist sense would not be very effective, since much of what SriVaishnavam is
based upon, from the AzhwArs to the two illustrious poorvAchAryas, is
interweaved with hagiology.  So, to move away from hagiology completely would
leave large gaping holes in our our understanding of the lives of these great
souls and the deep level of respect and fame  to our community.

Be that as it may however, we must at least try maintain some effort to show
some objectivity on this issue if we are ever to bring what has now
degenerated into needless bickering to an end.  Those like myself who is more
connected to the West than to India can do so with some ease, because we have
been blessed to be able to study SriVaishnavism as an
anthropological/comparitive religion study as well as from the perspective of
it being our chosen faith.

Based on this former perspective, a totally different picture of
SriVaishnavam is offered as existing prior to, during, and even after the
time of the two famors AchAryas.  What is suggested by Western scholars is an
image of Ramanuja Darshanam in its truest sense, a vibrant and dynamic
culture that had a major impact on all levels of life in pre-British India.
Its influence could be seen not only in temple worship and philosophical
debate, but also in the sculpting, painting, music, dance, theatre, and even
in politics.  Examples of this are now only the subject of old Telugu and
Tamizh film: the building of the beautiful temples at Belur and Hampi, the
ashtadig gajas of the majestic court of Krishna Deva Raya, the poetry of
Kamban, the dance style Kuchipudi, all this and much more sprung out of or
drew heavily upon the scholarly devotionalism of the SriVaishnava scholars of

It would naturally follow that a culture having such a strong sphere of
influence would be home to a vast tapestry of philosophical and religious
ideas in order to allow for a varied population of followers.    It could be
suggested that  the very vibrancy of SriVaishnavam itself probably emerged in
the expression of the paradoxes and contradistinctions that came into being
and merged with other prevailing views to form new ones.  Indeed, there is
evidence to suggest that some of the more noted scholars in our paramparai
were able to interweave various philosophical ideas such that the seeming
tension between varying views brought out the beauty, mystery, and majesty of
the Divine.

How is it possible, then, for Vedanta Desika and Manavalamunigal, who are
both paradigmatic examples of SriVaishnava scholars, to have not known these
varying views?  How could they represent only one specific set of ideas, and
merely denounced others?  To even begin to suggest that they were merely
taking a firm stand on one perceived truth or the other would be verging on
the ridiculous, because it would make them appear almost rudimentary in their
understanding in comparison to what was taking place during their time.

While there is no doubt in my mind that our AchAryas are probably still aware
of and expert in this dynamic and inclusionary understanding of our
siddhAntam, it would appear that we, the post-British, job-oriented and
materialistically driven laiety have - and Sri Mani must pardon me for using
this term - "hijacked" our two beloved AchAryas, lowering them to the level
of icons for our dry and rather incomplete arguments about the nature of
SriVaishnavam, all in an effort to show our false sense of moral superiority
over one group or the other.

I would strongly suggest that we make an effort to spend more time either
meeting with our teachers or at least listening to the discourses of all our
AchAryas and scholars with humility, with the effort to look beyond the "U"
or "Y" that adorns them, so that we can have a deeper and more refined
understanding of our faith and the hagilogies and philosophies that are
associated with it.  In this way, we can utilize Bhakti list for far more
healthy discussion, rather than bogging ourselves down in trite debates as to
which kalai is superior, or which hagiology is better. And, in this way,
perhaps we can at least take one step towards restoring the wonder that was
once Sri Ramanuja Darshanam.

adiyEn rAmAnuja dAsan

           - SrImate rAmAnujAya namaH -
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